Be a work experience superhero!
The old myth is true, doing work experience in a design agency can lead the way to getting a job.
Everyone at my design agency Burning Red, has been employed as a direct result of either doing freelance or work experience in the studio.
It isn’t just a place you have to go to because you’re made to for your school / college / uni course. We have sent people home on the first day of work experience because their attitude sucked! You should think of it as a week long interview for a job that might be available in a day, week, month, years time.
Hey, but I’ve got silky skills already … surely you are getting free labour!
Sorry to break this to you, but 80-90% of work produced by work experiencers is unusable. I’m sorry, but its true. If you are assigned something to do, it will most likely need someone else to finish it to a level that the studio is comfortable (lets face it, we know our clients alot better and there may be a studio style that is required which you can’t be expected to know … yet! … but this is ok, this is part of the process and that’s why you are work experiencing. We have all been in that situation, and like a lot of companies, we like to put a little back.
Something you may not know is that work experience costs us money. Every minute you are at a studio, and someone is giving you attention, experience, knowledge, advice – is time, and in the studio (and many businesses for that matter) time is money.
You need to treat work experience with the respect it deserves, whatever age you do it.
We can’t talk for all design companies, but we do get a lot of enquiries, and alas can’t reply to all of them, so here’s our top list of DOs and DON’Ts for approaching a design agency or, equally applicable to any niche industry that you want to get into for that matter!
DO feel free to send something by post, have a look on the website and work out who it needs to be sent to. Hint: business owner / creative director … and don’t be afraid to phone them up if awaiting a response. In our opinion phoning is a better way to folllow up a contact than an email, we get alot of emails. For extra brownie points, phone up first and ask if we would like to receive it in the first place. Unsolicited mail is essentially SPAM!
DON’T send emails to twenty (or more) agencies/companies saying the same thing. It’s just a bit rubbish, lazy and shows you like shortcuts. Make it personal to each studio. A little extra effort will go a long way.
DON’T phone up saying ‘You got a job for me’ … seriously, no, its just creepy / weird and if you do, make sure that you know what we actually do first.
DON’T just rely on your tutor to arrange placement. Yes, they may have a foot in the door and may have made initial contact, but you need to make contact yourself – a polite phone call to clarify and confirm your placement is required, and maybe ask a couple of questions. We understand it can be a bit daunting, but we don’t bite!
DO include a CV. If you are at university / college /sixth form this is important. Please note, we are more interested in your willingness to learn rather than full-on technical prowess. UNLESS, you are looking for a post-university work experience placement. Then we are looking to be wowed with great skill, and an eye for detail with a CV full of non-university work. We cannot stress this last point enough!
DO enquire as to what to wear. Is it smart casual? formal? If in doubt, it is better to dress up than down. At the same time, if you turn up in a suit and tie to a studio, it also says that you haven’t bothered getting in touch to find out before you arrive.
DO ask about breaks, lunch, time-in, time-out, mobile phone use, social media policy. Every studio will be different, but remember, for that one/two weeks you will be treated like a member of staff and will be expected to act accordingly.
DONT disappear during the day. If you need extra lunch / time, just ask. Disappearing is simply not cool.
DO be enthusiastic. There will be rubbish jobs you will have to do, but we all have to start somewhere! Don’t huff / pout / grimace / tut / answer back … otherwise you may find yourself not coming back the following day.
DON’T be afraid to ask if you can come back for a second placement if you feel it went well. If we felt the same, we would most likely say yes!
DO make an extra effort whilst you are there. We mean this in a holistic sense, not only with tasks you are asked to do but also in the odd social element. Little things like ‘going to the shop’ at lunch. We don’t expect dancing on tables and crazy jokes, but the odd interaction, question goes a long way.
I went for work experience when I was 14, at secondary school. I think my school was severely limited in options that it had for people interested in design, and was shipped off to a YTS graphic design scheme for 2 weeks. It was mental. Scalpels thrown across the room, serious abuse of photocopying (usually by me and judge dredd related comics) and ritualistic ‘dowsing of the head in darkroom chemicals’ for the new guy. All I can say is that it was a good job we were only round the corner from Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester. Fortunately, things have come on a bit since then, and dare I say it, YTS schemes are a thing of the past!
Alex Creative Director / Business Owner
In the second year of our course my lecturer stressed the importance of gaining experience outside of university – whether it be freelance work or a placement with an agency. I already had a list of inspiring agencies I’d love to work for in mind and started getting in touch with them about possible work experience. After sending my CV and a little bit of persistence I was luckily enough to get a week at Burning Red which opened my eyes to the huge practical/fast turnaround side of the industry and I gained a huge insight in a short space of time. I also managed to wangle a second placement.
After my second year at university I took on more freelance projects and even landed a full time placement for a year as a designer at Cardiff Students’ Union (helped by a great reference from Gareth, Studio Manager at Burning Red, all thanks to my work experience) – this gave me even more experience and confidence and I began to feel more and more like a ‘real’ designer.
Luck seemed to be on my side and on the last week of this placement I had a call from Burning Red offering me some paid studio work – an opportunity I definitely wouldn’t have had if not for the work experience there.This continued as a part time position during my final year at university and I was over the moon to be offered a full time job when I graduated.
Pete Designer / Burning Red
I actually applied for work experience/ a job at Burning Red a few years before I started working here. I originally sent a CV to the email address on their site and I never heard back from anyone. To be honest, in retrospect I’m not surprised. My CV was just attached to an email and although the content of the CV wasn’t that bad, the email and CV didn’t exactly sing about who I was.
It was a few years later, when I met Alex and showed him my work, that I was able to wrangle myself some work experience which lead to freelance work and eventually a job. The main thing that swung it for me was the amount of work that I’d done that wasn’t uni work, it was all either personal or things for other people.
Lo Designer / Burning Red
Work experience can be daunting, but ultimately, you are going to a place/business who has said ‘yes, we are prepared to devote some quality time to you’. Make an effort, and you may be surprised what you get back.
Originally published on burningred.